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Improv Tip Week #10-Key Fluency

Welcome back to week #10! I was going to start on a different topic this week, but decided that it can wait. This week, I felt like it was necessary to talk about Key Fluency. I think most musicians will agree that having command of your instrument is an important thing. Part of that command is being able to play in more than just the “comfortable” key areas. A common mistake I see younger musicians making is that they learn their major scales in all 12 keys by just going up and down the scale. It’s a good place to start learning key areas, but is not the end all. Scales are patterns (regardless of what instrument you play). The real test is playing music in that key. I think if someone were taught the Db-major scale as their first scale to work on that it would be just as easy for them to learn as the C-major scale. It’s all in our perceptions and what our starting point was as musicians. I personally don’t believe that any key area (or scale) is difficult or hard for anyone to learn. Andy Classen, my trumpet professor at Drake University, used to tell all of his students that, “there’s no such thing as difficult music, only unfamiliar.”

In this week’s tip (it’s more like 3 tips in one), we’re going to talk about some different ways you can get better at key fluency. Unlike other past week’s tips that give direct advice on how you can better your improvisations, this week’s tip will have an indirect effect. The more comfortable you are in all keys, the better you will be able to apply past tips (and other education/advice you’ve learned) to other keys.

1) 12 weeks to major key/scale freedom! Some of you may be thinking, “well…I already know my major scales-how will this really help me?” I’m glad you asked! When people “work” on their major scales or key areas, they typically spend a little bit of time (maybe 15-20 minutes) a practice session on it and then move on to another scale or key area. We end up trying to cram all 12 major keys/scales into one session. Instead of trying to do all 12 in one session, spend an entire week on just ONE major key area or scale a week. Practice does not make perfect…it makes permanent. If you’re going to engrain a habit (in this case our key area/scale)-spend a considerable amount of time on it. It may seem tedious at first, but you will notice after a few days working in that key area that it becomes significantly more familiar with each passing day. It doesn’t need to be ALL of what you practice, but don’t work on another key area/scale during that time. Just focus on one per week. Also, instead of just running up and down a scale, trying playing the scale up and down in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc. like the example below. Start slow at first-then speed it up a few clicks after you’ve mastered the slower tempo.

2) 12 weeks to minor key/scale freedom! I’ll admit…this one was kind of obvious! There are different types of minor key areas/scales that you can apply the same advice from above. Once you’ve spent 12 weeks on the major key/scale areas…start jumping into the different minors (melodic, harmonic, dorian, etc) and spend one week working on ONE key area/scale. The example below is the exact replica of the one above, but using the melodic minor scale as the reference.

3) DON’T JUST PLAY THROUGH SCALE EXERCISES! I remember when I first started doing the above suggestions that I noticed my ears started to open up and I felt like I had better command of my instrument. But for some reason, I wasn’t seeing the benefits translating into my improvisations yet. Then I read an interview of jazz trumpeter, Tim Hagans. He talked about how he would spend some of his practice time shutting his eyes and playing freely. No determined ideas/licks, no determined music, no time, no backing tracks (Aebersolds, Band-In-A-Box, etc)…nothing but free playing. I took that advice and started applying it to my “key area” of the week. That was my only limitation…I needed to stay within my key of the week. At first I fumbled through and made a lot of, well…interesting note groupings. But, after a while I started hearing on a deeper level and noticed that I liked the sound of certain intervals grouped together. Sure enough, the more I did it, the more some of those sounds started to appear in my improvisations. When doing this exercise, don’t worry about time. Just close your eyes and play in that key area/scale of the week. Your ear will help you determine if you liked it or not. It’s difficult to give a written example of what this might look like notated, but I took just a quick moment and transcribed a few seconds of myself playing in the key of “C-major” (it’s easier for most people to read in C) and put it below:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and look forward to hearing from you on how your key fluency has improved over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve enjoyed this tip(s), please feel free to share them with others via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc with the links below. Also, if you haven’t already, check out the August Promotional video and the commercial for Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose below. For additional information, you can check out Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #9-Targeting Using Dominant Pentatonic

Welcome to week #9 where we’ll be finalizing the last of our “Pentatonic Series.” There’s obviously many more types of pentatonic scales that are out there that you can use these targeting concepts with, but I have some other topics that I want to get out to you. This week’s pentatonic scale, much like some of our other exotic pentatonics, probably has a few different names that you may have heard. However, for this blog’s purposes…I’m calling it the Dominant Pentatonic scale. This scale (along with a number of others) is very recognizable if you’ve spent any time listening to guitarist, John McLaughlin. Unlike some of the other pentatonics we’ve discussed, this particular pentatonic employs the 4th scale degree as well as the flat 7th (hence the name dominant pentatonic). It has a very distinct sound because of the half step in the middle of the scale between the 3rd and 4th scale degrees. The dominant pentatonic is constructed of the root, 3rd, 4th, 5th and flat 7th scale degrees (see example below).

While I’m sure you can find ways to make the dominant pentatonic scale to work over various modes (see previous tips), I’ve found that for me-this scale works best with dominant (or dominant related) chords. The first example below uses the G-dominant pentatonic scale over the G7 chord in the second bar. Notice (like in practically all examples over the past 9 weeks), that the G-dominant pentatonic scale is used to target the “G” of the Cmaj7 chord in the 3rd bar. One of the reasons why I like this particular pentatonic scale is because of the half-step motion built into the scale. Music and great improvisations have tension and release of varying degrees. The dominant pentatonic scale has an interesting and exotic sound because of the tension and release found within the scale itself. When you use it as a tool along with targeting principles-you will find that your lines begin to communicate with your audience.

The above example is a very practical use of the dominant pentatonic scale. However, you can use dominant pentatonic scales that aren’t based on the root of the chord of the moment. In the example below, I use the C-dominant pentatonic scale over the G7(#9) chord because the half-step motion in the scale flows nicely from the G7(#9) chord into the Cmaj7 chord.

Both of the examples I’ve used today would be considered “inside.” All of the pentatonic examples we’ve talked about the past couple of weeks can be used to go “outside” of the harmony as well. One way to do that is to take the pentatonic scale you would use and play it 1/2 step up or down from the root. Always remember, though, you can’t be “outside” without defining “inside.” My general rule for playing “outside” of the harmony is to always start “inside,” go “outside” and then come back in. It can be used to great effect, but is very easily overdone.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and the past “Pentatonic Series.” I always look forward to hearing from all of you so please feel free to leave your comments and share this tip (and blog) to others via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.

I would also love to give you a FREE MP3 from my first album, Mountain, Move. Simply fill out the short form after clicking the image below!

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Improv Tip Week #8-Targeting Using Major Pentatonic with b6

We’re going to talk about how we can creatively target with the major pentatonic with the flat 6th. This is definitely an exotic pentatonic scale and one that’s not talked about much but can be used in different applications and is relatively easy to learn. For those of you that have already learned your standard major pentatonic scales, this should be an easy scale to pickup. The major pentatonic with the flat 6th is just one note change (the 6th) away from the standard pentatonic. It’s constructed of the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and flat 6th scale degrees.

As we’ve been talking with the other pentatonic scales in previous weeks, they can be used over different harmonies outside of the parent or root scale. Last week with the minor pentatonic with the major 6th-we looked at how it works perfectly over any chord that fits in the melodic minor (dorian or jazz minor) scale/harmony. The major pentatonic with the flat 6th will work over any chord that fits in the harmonic major scale/harmony. This may be the first time some of you have heard about harmonic major (It’s a major scale with a flat 6th). While this pentatonic scale can be used over any chord found in that harmonic structure, I find it works best over a dominant chord with a flat 9th (example below). Notice how I’m using part of the C major pentatonic (with the flat 6th) to target the 5th scale degree of the Cmaj7.

Always remember that with any tool that we’re using (in this case a pentatonic), that we use it to aim with purpose at a target. You can use the most exotic scale, pattern or lick known in the universe-but if you’re just wandering with it…it has no purpose. The next example below has no chord changes above it, but you can tell that the major pentatonic with the flat 6th is being used. You will notice, however, that it’s based off of some form of C major harmony because either an E natural or a G natural are being targeted. This example is something that I might play over a vamp (Cmaj, Dmin7, etc).

I hope this week’s tip has been helpful and I look forward to hearing from all of you again this week! Please feel free to leave your comments (either here of by email) and feel free to share this tip (and blog) to others via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. We will continue the Pentatonic Series next week. Until then, be sure to check out my book- Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose by clicking on the link on the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #7-Targeting Using Minor Pentatonic With Major 6th (or Insen)

Welcome back everyone to week #7’s tip where we’ll be talking about the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the Major 6th (or Insen). Last week we talked about using the Pentatonic Scale to creatively target notes and after some good feedback on last week’s topic, I’ve decided to do another mini-series. This series will focus on the different types of pentatonic scales and how we can use them to target notes. This week we’re going to talk about the Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th which is also sometimes referred to as the Insen pentatonic (named after a Japanese pentatonic scale). Before I get too far, I wanted to briefly mention that when you start to talk about more exotic pentatonic scales-some people get extremely technical on names. Very well respected educators argue about the “correct” names of scales and chord nomenclature (including the Insen scale). For me, I like the definition of the Insen scale to be that of the Minor Pentatonic with the major 6th. I’m ok if you disagree with me, but the important issue is that we’re still talking about the Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th. So let’s dive in and take a look at the scale and how we can use it to creatively target notes…

Below is the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the Major 6th (or Insen). It’s constructed of the root, 2nd, flat 3rd, 5th and major 6th scale degrees.

As I mentioned briefly last week and in my book (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose), Pentatonic scales can be used over different harmonies outside of the parent or root scale. The Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th can especially be used with any chord that fits in the melodic minor (dorian or jazz minor) scale/harmony which includes: min7, min7(b5), altered, 7(#11), augmented, etc. In the minor 251 example below, I’m using two Minor Pentatonic Scales with the Major 6th. On the Dmin7(b5) chord, I used the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th starting on the b3 (or the F minor pentatonic w/ major 6th). On the the G7alt, I used the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th starting a 1/2 step above the root (or the Ab minor pentatonic w/ major 6th). Notice how the lines that I used are still targeting specific guide tones. We still want to aim (or target) a goal note with purpose.

The next example below is very similar to some that we used last week. I’m using part of the C minor pentatonic scale w/ major 6th to target the Eb in the Cmin7 chord. In a technical harmonic analysis, the A natural should clash against the G7alt chord. However, because we’re using it as part of a tool to get us to the Eb in the Cmin7 chord….it works.

Another great tool that I like using the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th for is the Blues. Always remember that you can use minor scales in major harmony (and vice versa)…it’s just how you apply them and use them to target. Even though this pentatonic scale is “minor,” we can use it in a non-minor setting. Below is a basic example of using this pentatonic scale exclusively on the first couple bars of the Blues.

I hope this week’s tip has been helpful and I look forward to hearing from all of you again this week! Please feel free to leave your comments either here or by email and be sure to share this tip (and blog) via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. Next week we’ll continue this Pentatonic Series. Until then, be sure to check out my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose by clicking on the link to the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #6- Targeting Using Pentatonics

Targeting Using Pentatonics

One e-mail I received mentioned that, while they’re enjoying the other tips, they’d like to see a few more from my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose. For those who haven’t had a chance to check out the book yet, it dives into a few different ways we can creatively target a note. One of the chapters discusses the different types of pentatonic scales and how we can use them to target a note. If you listen to some of your favorite improvisers, many of them utilize pentatonics in some form.

The pentatonic scale

It’s an easy scale to learn and can, unfortunately, be over used. However, pentatonics are a great source to create simple melodies and have been used in just about every culture across the globe. Anything we can draw melodic inspiration from can be used in our improvisations. We take that next step by using those melodies to target where we’re going. As you will notice (if you haven’t already), I define targeting as moving to a note with purpose.

First, let’s look at what a basic major pentatonic scale is for those that might not know. A pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale (derived from the root penta which = 5). If you were to construct the scale from the root up it would look like this: Root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th. A “C-pentatonic” scale is written out below.

Then, if you haven’t already, I would highly suggest learning all 12 of the major pentatonic scales. Get them under your fingers and in your ears. I have a great pentatonic workout in my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose written out in all 12 keys. It’s written out mainly for the younger students, but I strongly suggest you do them without the written exercises.

Let’s talk about how we can use pentatonics to target. We can use any part of the pentatonic scale to get to our targeted note. For this week’s examples, you want to make sure that your targeted note is in the pentatonic scale you’re going to be using. In the ii-V-I example below, I’m going to target the “5th” of the Cmaj7 chord. I’ve determined that I’m going to use a C-major pentatonic scale to get to that target and I’m going to use the C-major pentatonic scale starting on the 2nd scale degree.

The above example is a basic way we can use the pentatonic to target. But, notice how I said that you want to make sure that your targeted note is IN the pentatonics scale you’re going to be using? This implies that we can use pentatonic scales outside of the “key area.” Our next example below is the same line, but using part of the Bb pentatonic scale. Notice how the line still works, but gives it a different color? We’re still targeting the same note, but we’re changing how we get there.

I hope the above tip helps and I’ll talk more about how we can use pentatonics to target notes in the next coming weeks. But if you’d like to learn more, you can check out my book by clicking on Jason Klobnak Music. As always, I truly hope these tips (and the book) are helping! If you have feedback, reviews or comments…please feel free to let me know!

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